Alexa, make my kids more self-sufficient

I accidentally went to a Best Buy the other day. To make a long story short, after an unplanned but long and pleasant chat with an Amazon rep I walked out with an Amazon Echo. Much has been written about Alexa and how good it is, and everything you’ve read about it is accurate. But I want to focus on a different aspect of Alexa: how it’s making my kids more self-sufficient.

See, the thing about kids is, they need you all the time. And that’s cool, because we’re their parents and we love them and we want to be there for them. But some tasks are incredibly boring and menial. I’ve outsourced some of those to Alexa to the great delight of our kids, who continue to find new things she never gets tired of doing.

Alexa, turn on some music that Mom and Dad are totally sick of

The biggest win for my kids so far has been the realization that they can listen to any music they want to. Right now it’s the Moana and Trolls soundtracks. Over and over and over and over and over and… But that’s ok, because my wife and I can be in another room, and they can listen to Get your hair up as much as they want without driving us insane.

Alexa, help us not fight over the iPad

We let our kids do iPad. Let’s just get that out of the way first. Anyway, it’s usually a choice between TV or iPad, and when they choose iPad it tends to result in a constant fight over whose turn it is. Not any more. Now they each get two turns of 10 minutes, and Alexa keeps score. They use Alexa to set the timer, and there hasn’t been any fighting (well, about this…) since.

Alexa, make us laugh

My daughters aren’t big fans of my jokes. It’s fine, I’m not bitter about it. Anyway, they discovered Alexa tells jokes too. I personally think my jokes are way better than hers, and here’s my proof:

Like I said, I’m not bitter about it.

Alexa, are we bad parents?

This is, of course, the big question when it comes to technology. Should we immerse our kids in it or should we shield them from it? We all find our own way when it comes to parenting, and even though we’re still working on what this technology balance looks like, my current feeling is that voice-activated UI doesn’t have many of the issues that are traditionally brought up as negatives about kids and technology.

First of all, Alexa is inherently social. It’s conversational, friendly, and it never gets tired. We laugh at her together. The Echo is not an “alone” device, and I think there’s something really powerful about that. But second, it’s also really useful. Our kids love asking it questions, and coming up with new ways to trick it into a misunderstanding.

Conversational UI certainly has a long way to go. But I will say that I am so far pleasantly surprised with the natural way in which it integrates with our family life. It’s not a substitute for human interaction and connection, and our kids get that. But as a useful playmate of an entirely “other” type of technology, it’s a winner.